Friday, July 27, 2007

The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

This was the book of the month for September 2006 over at Historical Fiction Forum - a welcome change from the usual selections which tend to always feature English royalty. As much as I love reading about those, it is nice to expand the horizons a little bit!

Though the events are almost a century old, the imprisonment and execution of Tsar Nicholas and his family still hold an aura of mystery that fascinates. In haunting prose, Robert Alexander retells the story through the eyes of Leonka, on the kitchen boy to the Romanovs, who claims to be the last living witness to the family's brutal execution. Mysteriously spared by the Bolsheviks, the boy vanished into the bloody tides of the Russian Revolution. Now, through Alexander's conjuring, he reemerges to tell his story. What did the young boy see in those last days of the Imperial Family? Does he have answers to long-standing questions about secret letters smuggled to the Tsar, thirty-eight pounds of missing tsarist jewels, and why the bodies of two Romanov children are missing from the secret grave discovered in 1991?
Marg Says:

This book is only about 200 pages long but for it's diminutive size it certainly was a captivating read.

It is told from the perspective of an old man telling his grand daughter the story of his life. The story he weaves in an extraordinary one. As a young boy, he was the kitchen boy assigned to the Romanov family. When the Romanovs were imprisoned at the Ipatiev house in Siberia, the kitchen boy Leonka was one of the few personal servants who were allowed to continue to serve the Tsar and his family.

Through the eyes of Leonka, we witness the last few days of the Royal family through several incidents, most notably when it seems as though they might be rescued as indicated in secret notes smuggled in to them. As the Tsarina and her daughters frantically try to hide the family jewels in case they are able to escape.

Incredibly, on the day that the Tsar, his family and his personal attendants are all killed, Leonka has been set free, thus saving his life. But for Leonka this has not necessarily been a blessing, for having snuck back to the house and been witness to the infamous events that followed, he is the last living witness, even able to give some clue as to what happened to the bodies of two of the Romanov children that were missing when the family's grave was finally discovered in 1991.

I really enjoyed the insight into the final days of the Tsar and his family...certainly a terrible incident in the long and turbulent history of Russia. There was a really interesting twist at the end of the book which I liked, although the author may have taken it just a fraction too far!

There is a really good website for this book as well, that can be found here.

Overall, an entertaining read!

Kailana Says:

I bought this book in August of last year, and I even read the first chapter back then, but it has taken me all this time to actually read the whole thing. It's sad, really because it is such a short book! The Russian Revolution has always been an aspect of history that interests me, including the untimely demise of the Czar and his family. While I have understood that the Czar was not a great leader for his people, I have always felt that things would have been a lot better if England had offered them protection or they had been rescued in time. To kill so many people is always a terrible thing, no matter if they felt it was justified at the time or not.

By reading The Kitchen Boy, readers get the chance to see the life of the Czar and his family from a person outside the main story. The kitchen boy was just a low part of society, so he would have very different opinions on what things should be like and were like than the royal family would have had if they were telling this story. Alexander makes you feel like you are right there in confinement with this Russian family, he wields a very good story that is believable and compelling. It shows royalty as real people instead of faceless idols, even if the royal family had very high-reaching opinions on their place in the world.

I always wanted to believe that one of the members of the royal family survived, that they managed to get away and live out their lives to completion. It would have been too risky if they had spoken out about it, so they likely would have sunk into the background of society. One can hope that all eleven of those people were not killed in that dark, damp cellar. That one of them manages to get away. Reading this book makes you wish so even more because Alexander writes a very real story that makes you feel compassion for the Czar and his family. Whatever they may have done wrong, they did not deserve a firing squad. Innocent children should not have been destroyed in such a brutual fashion. I am just one of those people that always believes that there is another way to do things.

I plan to read Alexander's other book on Rasputin's daughter that Alexander has written as well. Rasputin was a dark creature from history, it will be interesting to see how Alexander portrays his daughter.

A very interesting look at the royal family of Russia, especially in such few pages! I recommend this book.


  1. It sounds very interesting - I think I will look for it.

  2. I really liked this book - especially the twist at the end. I agree with you Kailana that there had to have been a different way of dealing with the children - they did not deserve the fate they were given. I don't know enough really about what Tsar Nicholas did or didn't do to form an opinion as to whether he got what he deserved. But his children certainly didn't.